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Home -> Orville Marcellus Powers -> Commerce and Finance -> Chapter I

Commerce and Finance - Chapter I

1. Chapter I

2. Chapter II

3. Chapter III

4. Chapter IV

5. Chapter V

6. Chapter VI

7. Chapter VII

8. Chapter VIII

9. Chapter IX

10. Chapter X

11. Chapter XI

12. Chapter XII

13. Chapter XIII

14. Chapter XIV

15. Chapter XV

16. Chapter XVI

17. Chapter XVII

18. Chapter XVIII

19. Chapter XIX

20. Chapter XX

21. Chapter XXI

22. Chapter XXII

23. Chapter XXIII

24. Chapter XXIV

25. Chapter XXV

26. Chapter XXVI

27. Chapter XXVII

28. Chapter XXVIII

29. Chapter XXIX

30. Chapter XXX

31. Chapter XXXI

32. Chapter XXXII

33. Chapter XXXIII

34. Chapter XXXIV

35. Chapter XXXV

36. Chapter XXXVI

37. Chapter XXXVII

38. Chapter XXXVIII

39. Chapter XXXIX

40. Chapter XL

41. Chapter XLI

42. Chapter XLII

43. Chapter XLIII

44. Chapter XLIV

45. Chapter XLV

46. Chapter XLVI

47. Chapter XLVII

48. Chapter XLVIII

49. Chapter XLVIX

50. Chapter L

51. Chapter LI

52. Chapter LII

Ancient Commerce.

Origin Of Commerce; Egyptians; Phoenicians; Greeks.

The history of commerce is the history of civilization. In
his barbarous state man's wants are few and simple, limited to
his physical existence, such as food, clothing and shelter, but
as he advances in the scale of intelligence his wants
increase and he requires not only the comforts and
conveniences of life but even the luxuries. Civil-
ized man is never satisfied, for no sooner is a want supplied
than another arises in its place, and under that stimulus he
achieves mighty conquests over the forces of nature and attains
to a high degree of development in character. Commerce is
one of the means by which various peoples have at different
times undertaken to supply their needs.

No civilized community produces all the things which it con-
sumes. A portion of its needs must be supplied by an inter-
change of products with other communities or nations and
this is the beginning of commerce, either domestic or foreign.
Moreover, it may be impossible for a nation to produce all that
it needs to consume, owing to physical peculiarities of the
country, its lack of coal, wood, or ore, its climate, etc. Thus
England cannot grow sufficient corn to feed its
people, but it manufacturers more cloth than
is necessary to clothe them. A warm country
cannot grow wheat successfully, but it may produce cotton or
rice in abundance.



Commerce also depends in a measure upon the national skill
of a people in the manufacture of commodities. The Swiss have
long been noted for the manufacture of clocks, watches, and fine
lace; the French for the production of wine and

Employments s ^- Another nation may be deficient in both the
possession of natural products and skill as manu-
facturers, but have peculiar skill as navigators, and become the
carriers of goods. Such were the Italian cities which, in the
middle ages, grew opulent from the profits of the carrying trade.
Then again a nation may combine all three of these functions,
and become producers, manufacturers and carriers in a greater
or less degree, reaping a profit from each, as the principal nations
of Europe, and the United States are doing at the present time.
The ancient commerce of the world was carried on chiefly
upon the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. When we read in
Genesis that Joseph was sold by his brethren for twenty pieces
of silver to "a company of Ishmaelites come from
Egypt*" Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm

and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt," we
get a glimpse of the ancient commerce of that oldest of empires,
Egypt, drawing supplies from the thrifty nations to the east of the
Mediterranean. Caravans of camels laden with goods and silver
crossed the desert and carried into Egypt wool, ivory, gold-dust,
spices and slaves from Arabia and the far east. In exchange
Egypt furnished large quantities of wheat, barley, rice, cotton
and flax from the fertile valley of the Nile, besides quantities of
linen, and cotton cloth, as well as utensils and pottery. From
the nature of the conditions, Egypt has always been essentially
an agricultural country. The broad, level valley of the Nile,
enriched annually by the overflow, yielded abundant crops, and
the people were apparently content with their harvests, devoting
themselves but little to manufacture or commerce. The sea
coast was low, with no good harbors, thus uninviting to com-
merce, while a scarcity of wood made ship-building a practical


impossibility. The Egyptians cultivated the arts and sciences,
and their kings busied themselves in erecting those wonderful
monuments in the form of tombs, which still remain to a con-
siderable extent. Although industrious at home, they did not
seejn inclined to go abroad or engage in foreign trade, and this
was carried on chiefly by Arabs and Greeks. After the con-
quests of Alexander the Great, the port of Alexandria became the
great commercial metropolis of the world, and Greek merchants
settled there in large numbers.

The first navigators and carriers of goods by water, of which
we read, were the Phoenicians who inhabited the narrow strip
of coast land along the east of the Mediterranean
Phoenicians Sea. Havin g a lar g e sea frontage with little inte-
rior distance, these people were naturally attracted
to seafaring occupations. Their coast abounded in good har-
bors, and their abundant forests supplied the materials for ship
building, while agriculture was difficult on account of the hilly
and rocky nature of the land. Here we see the natural con-
ditions exactly reversed from those of Egypt, with the effect of
developing a nation of navigators and traders instead of farm-
ers, as in Egypt. The enterprise and activity of the Phoenicians
were wonderful. They founded the cities of Tyre and Sidon
and built up a large and profitable system of commerce. In-
tellectual activity and diligence in business led these people to
many discoveries, among which were the making of glass,
the art of dyeing purple and writing by means of letters. They
were also distinguished by their skill in casting metals, weaving,
architecture and in various other directions. Sidonian garments,
Tyrian purple, Phoenician glass and articles of ivory, gold and
other metals were precious and coveted wares in all antiquity.
The forests of Lebanon, along the eastern border, supplied them
with material for ship-building, and with their oared barks they
navigated the coast and islands of the sea, trading in their own
productions and those of the far east, spices, frankincense, oil,


wine, wheat and slaves. They made their way along the coast,
and out as far as Cyprus, where they founded a colony, then to
the islands of the Aegean Sea and Greece to the north, and to
Egypt and Africa in the south. They ventured
B.C. 1050 west as far as Spain, which they found rich in

minerals, especially silver. The discovery of Spain
with its rich mines brought immense wealth to the Phoenicians,
and they proceeded to develop the resources of the country with
vigor. It is said that the Phoenicians drew such vast wealth
from the mines of Spain that their ships carried silver anchors.
Besides silver they received from Spain considerable quantities
of tin, lead, iron and even gold, as well as a large yield of wheat,
wine, oil, wax, fruit and fine wool.

The Phoenicians used their possessions in Spain as a basis
for trading voyages farther west. They passed the straits of
Gibraltar and went northward among the British isles, where
they obtained large quantities of tin. Proceeding still farther,
they entered the Baltic Sea, and visited the rude people in north-
western Europe, purchasing wool, hides, furs, copper
an ^ ther metals, and giving in exchange their own
manufactures, such as purple dyed robes, carpets,
and fine cloths, works in gold, silver, ivory, amber and glass.
The Phoenicians imported largely raw materials, which they
made up in Tyre and Sidon, and then exported the finished
product either by their own ships seaward or by caravans to the
east. Thus they were a manufacturing as well as a maritime
nation. They are said to have rounded the Cape of Good Hope
on voyages to India about the year B. C. 600.

This enterprising people became not only masters of the
Mediterranean Sea, but were instrumental in scat-

An Instrument , ,-, , , -. . , ,,.

of civilization tering the germs of taste and intelligence, elevat-
ing the standard of civilization and establishing
a system of commerce throughout a large portion of the an-
cient civilized world. They no doubt learned the use of gold


and silver as money from the Babylonians, but they introduced
and popularized the use of these metals as money throughout the
Mediterranean by stamping and issuing coins of both metals in
various sizes and denominations. The ratio of 'silver to gold in
value at that time was about 13 to 1. The Phoenicians also in-
troduced into commerce a regular system of weights and meas-
ures, and the use of bills of exchange, as a means of payment.
But owing to troublesome wars and confusion caused by the
contests between the Babylonian and Assyrian empires about the
eighth century B. C. the commerce of Phoenicia
The Greeks began to decline, and after the conquest and de-
struction of the cities by the Greeks under Alex-
ander the Great, including Tyre, by the celebrated siege which
lasted seven months (B. C. 332), the commerce of this once
energetic people passed over to the Greeks, who were then a
dominant nation in the arts and sciences. The Greeks were
not essentially a commercial people, being more devoted to art,
architecture and literature, nevertheless they had observed the
methods of the Phoenicians and became their competitors to a
considerable extent in commerce, and having finally conquered
them, inherited their trade. The Greeks were even grea'ter
colonizers than the Phoenicians, and established flourishing
cities in Asia Minor and along the Black Sea,
many of which not only became important mari-
time but manufacturing cities as well. Smyrna,
founded by the Greeks at that time, is still a flourishing em-
porium, noted principally for its rugs. These cities became the
centers for the products of that region, such as cereals, fish,
timber, salt, leather, wood, skins and slaves. Wheat was the
most important product and came chiefly from the south of
Eussia, as it does at the present time, and supplied Athens and
Corinth with breadstuffs.

The Greeks founded several colonies in Italy, chiefly in the
southern portion. They took possession of and cultivated the


island of Sicily, where the fertility of the soil proved a great
attraction to settlers, and there built up the rich and powerful
cities of Agrigentum and Syracuse. These cities
exported from Sicily large quantities of wheat,
fruit,, wine and oil, and conducted an extensive
carrying trade with Africa and Egypt. From Italy the
Greek colonies exported wine and cattle and imported articles of
Greek manufacture, such as pottery, metal wares and clothing.
Most of the Greek colonies in Italy, however, gave themselves
up to a life of pleasure, luxury and ease, and thus in time became
an easy prey to the more sturdy Romans.

Along the north coast of Africa, between Carthage and
Egypt, the Greeks established a number of settlements, the most
important of which was Gyrene. A genial and
healthful climate, combined with a fertile soil to
bring prosperity, and Cyrene carried on an active
trade by land with Egypt and the. interior of Africa, from which
it derived horses, grain, oil, dates, amethysts, onyx and precious
stones, and by sea with Greece, Italy and Asia Minor, exchang-
ing these products for cloth and wine. As before stated, Greek
merchants carried on most of the commerce of Egypt, both
domestic and foreign.

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